Leaving 'Disney On The Potomac'

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The other day, while reading about the big Disney trial, I learned that Michael Eisner had offered the Number Two job to Colin Powell before he gave it to Michael Ovitz. So, if Powell had accepted, he never would have become George Bush's Secretary of State. Instead of worrying about Afghanistan and Iraq, he might have been in charge of "Monsters, Inc." and "Extreme Makeover." I started wondering how different Colin Powell's life would have been if he had gone to Hollywood instead of to Washington. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wouldn't have been very different at all.

How do the working conditions in the boardroom of Disney compare to those in the war room of the White House? The Eisner-Ovitz trial portrays Disney as a place run by a secretive leader who expects absolute loyalty from those below him, and who bristles at any answers to questions other than "yes, sir." It's a place where a bunch of Scrooge McDuck-like rich men work with other rich men who are out of touch with the reality of people not in their financial bracket. Hmmm...

When Ovitz "resigned" from Disney, he got millions of dollars. Now that Colin Powell has "resigned," he'll give speeches and write a book and get, well, millions of dollars.

The similarities don't stop there. About 50 years ago, every week on TV, Walt Disney would show the audience drawings and models of his dream — Disneyland. With a pointer, he'd indicate on his map where exciting things would eventually be: "Adventureland will be over here. Mark Twain's riverboat will go down this river. Fantasyland will be right here," etc. It was like Colin Powell sitting in the U.N., using his pointer to show us where the Iraqis were hiding their weapons of mass destruction. Both men were pointing to things that didn't exist. The big difference, of course, is that Disneyland eventually became real.

Traditionally, the Disney brand of entertainment celebrated an America that never really existed — an America where every family owns its own house with a picket fence, where everybody has a good job, where everybody gets along, where there is no war or fear of war, and people's biggest problem is what to name the new puppy. And in those movies, those who tried to point out that not everything was perfect would be ridiculed or cast as villains. It was a lot like President Bush's campaign speeches. If Powell could put up with those, he probably could have survived a stint at Disney.

In fact, the Fantasyland of the Bush administration has not been very different from that of Disneyland: Fun rides, pretty exhibits, and lots of "real Americans" with down-home accents. It's all about pretending that the real world doesn't exist. If you say over and over again that Dumbo can fly, then people will swear they saw that elephant up in the sky. The Administration has taken the country on a fast-spinning "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," hoping that we'd get so dizzy that we wouldn't notice what's really going on. And it worked for 51 percent of the people.

Of course, not everything in the administration has been a copy of Disney. Like most political groups, they have, understandably, dropped the tale of Pinocchio and his lie-detector nose from their list of favorite stories. Also, if the administration re-made "Bambi," there would be significant differences. In this day and age, no Republican would ever consider a hunter a bad guy. And those who cried at Bambi's plight would be characterized as "girly men" who probably also care about other "nonsensical things" like the environment.

So, how comfortable would Colin Powell have been at Disney? He probably wouldn't have been any less comfortable than he's been in this administration. On those rare occasions when they allowed him to come out of hiding, he revealed that despite his past as a soldier, he wasn't 100 percent behind Mr. Bush's gun-toting vision of Frontierland.

Unfortunately for Powell — and the rest of the world — there is no Realityland in the White House. And I get the sense that as he walks away from this administration, like so many others, he'll worry about Tomorrowland.



Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver
  • Lloyd Vries

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